Why Confirmation Preparation Is Broken

And The 3 Systems That Need To Change

Last week Church of the Nativity hosted the Matter Conference.  In my breakout Commissioning the Next Generation I was asked, “What do you do to prevent teenagers from walking away from church after Confirmation?”

While we have not fixed the program we’ve realized that there are some systems that have needed to change.  By changing the systems we are giving people clarity and setting them up for a more enriching experience.  The three systems we’ve addressed that have caused the biggest impact are:

SYSTEM 1: CLARIFY THE PURPOSE

If you want someone to commit time and energy to something, you need to answer the question:

“Why does this matter?”

Knowing exactly why receiving the sacrament matters is key to having teens, parents and the church community embrace the journey.  You and I are responsible for clarifying why this part of their journey is so important. Instead of teaching them what they need to know, we need tell our teenagers that:

Confirmation preparation is learning the next steps to a better you.

That’s it. Preparing for Confirmation is learning how to be a disciple of Christ, because we believe that’s the path to a more full and fulfilling life. Give them a purpose and watch them dive in.

SYSTEM 2: MOVE FROM THE CLASSROOM

Teens spend the majority of their time in school. Nothing sounds less attractive than more school, but this time it’s at night and you are more tired.  The solution to the system is twofold.

PART 1
The first part is that Confirmation preparation needs to be relational. If you are going to break open deep, enriching information with teens, then they are going to need to do that with someone they trust.

PART 2
The second part is narrowing the focus and teaching less for a greater impact. While, there are millions of things we would love to communicate to the next generation we unfortunately do not have enough time. Focus on a few disciplines that will lead them to a deeper relationship.

A classroom is all about getting the information communicated, but when you set up your sacramental prep to be relational it’s about investing in that picture of what you hope the candidate will become.

SYSTEM3: BUILD AND WORK AS A TEAM

It doesn’t matter who is charged with leading the Confirmation program. In the end it’s a parish wide responsibility. The pastor, DRE, youth minister and everyone else needs to stack hands and get on board.

To get the buy in you need the right vision and you need to work on your communication as a team.  Stop playing the blame game and start answering questions.  Together you will figure out what’s best for the next generation.

Confirmation preparation might seem like a thorn in your side. It might feel like one of those impossible tasks. But, it’s worth it; you just need to own the challenge, own the situation and trust God.

Question:  What other system issues need to be addressed in sacramental preparation?  You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Nancy Radday

    Great ideas. I wish that I had this info when I was Confirmation coordinator.

  • The brokenness of Confirmation Prep begins at home with parents who expect their children to simply do it because that’s what Catholic’s do. When parents see it as just another box to check, it’s hard to expect teens to see it as anything more than that. And when they see it as a box to check, Confirmation itself is viewed as a conclusion and not as the beginning of a life of discipleship.

    • Brandon, I hear you and while the brokenness could start at home “we” in the church don’t always get it right. Instead of changing the paradigm we feed into it or create a standard that’s impossible to reach.

      • I wouldn’t presume to speak for the whole church; I can only speak for my own Confirmation prep program. We don’t create a standard that’s too high and we’ve definitely worked to change the paradigm. But when parents don’t buy into the new paradigm we’ve created, that is a system issue, which is what you asked us to comment on. And it is the same issue with virtually all of our sacramental preparation. We get to know the teens and spend time with them, so we can start to improve their understanding; but the parents rarely darken my door except to ask how many more meetings their son or daughter can miss. The majority of them seem to see it as just another commitment to be scheduled and crossed off when complete, and that’s a huge problem for us. We’ll continue to work on ways to get parents to understand and support our discipleship model, and I look forward to reading your posts when you’ve started to tackle that issue.

        • Brandon, thanks I appreciate your response. While disengaged parents is an issue, pointing to them as the source of the brokenness will not resolve anything. Instead you might want to answer the question, “Why aren’t parents engaged?”

          We answered that question by asking parents to write an essay answering the question, “Why do you want your teen to be Confirmed?” The majority of responses were authentic and heart filled. We then followed up by asking them, “What’s holding you back from being fully engaged?”

          We found the source of the issue was busyness. The system issue is busyness and not a lack of understanding. A book I strongly recommend is Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, it might give you some ideas of how to continue to engage parents, and help them overcome the obstacles they face.

  • Carol Wallington

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you so much for this article and the chapter in the book. I am a new DRE and as one Confirmation is high on my list as something we need to restructure. I am interested in more specifics on your confirmation program at Church of the Nativity. I love the idea of the application and the question you pose in the process. Any more tips or advice you could offer would be great.